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Matthew Chance: Volatile situation on front lines

CNN's Matthew Chance
CNN's Matthew Chance  

NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN (CNN) -- Forces of Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance continued their advance Monday on Taliban front lines as they moved closer to the Afghan capital of Kabul. Meanwhile, three international journalists were killed Sunday in a Taliban ambush, underscoring the danger of reporting from the front lines.

CNN's Matthew Chance is reporting from Charikar in northern Afghanistan and spoke with CNN's Paula Zahn about the latest developments.

CHANCE: Confirmation from the defense officials of the Northern Alliance that what we've been witnessing throughout the course of the day Monday here is indeed an advance toward the Afghan capital, Kabul, perhaps an attempt to capitalize on the gains in the west and in the north of Afghanistan.

They've been telling us about their territorial gains north of the Afghan capital. They're saying their forces have moved some three kilometers, about a mile and a half, down the road toward Kabul. They also say they've captured about 31 Taliban fighters and a number of Taliban checkpoints around the strategic Bagram air base, although they say the mountain that overlooks Bagram is still very much in Taliban hands.

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Throughout the course of the day, we've been seeing hundreds, if not thousands of troops, of the Northern Alliance move down the road toward Kabul, bolstering those frontline positions of the Northern Alliance. They've been followed by tanks, heavy artillery, armored personnel carriers as well.

We also managed to get pictures earlier Monday of what appear to be Western military advisers. They're the first shots we've managed to videotape of these advisers. It's an open secret that British and American Special Forces are here, apparently coordinating U.S.-led airstrikes on the Taliban front lines north of the Afghan capital.

Throughout the course of Monday, we've been seeing B-52 bombers and other fighter-bomber aircraft of the coalition, dropping their ordinates quite intensively on those Taliban front lines, even though Washington has expressed its concern, its reticence about a Northern Alliance advance into the city of Kabul itself. We are seeing some limited support for this advance across the Shomali Plains.

For their part, the Northern Alliance say they will advance, but they will not enter Kabul, preferring to wait instead, they say, for some kind of ethnically broad-based political agreement to be in place for a future government before they actually enter the Afghan capital. So we're watching that situation very closely indeed.

ZAHN: What is their expectation? Is it a matter of days do they think or weeks before they actually go into Kabul?

CHANCE: It's difficult to say because the losses of the Taliban have been so dramatic. Their rule has essentially collapsed across northern and parts of western Afghanistan, almost in the past few days. It's difficult to say how quickly or how slowly this advance will take place. Certainly, there have been, according to Northern Alliance officials, some significant advances toward the Afghan capital.

If they do stand outside the gates of Kabul, as they said they would, waiting for some kind of political agreement, that could take weeks, even months, for the United States-led coalition, for the international community, to get around the table, bring all the parties together from all the different ethnic groups -- the Uzbeks, the Tajiks and of course the Pashtuns, who are the biggest ethnic group here in Afghanistan -- to agree on some kind of power-sharing agreement for the future government of Afghanistan.

ZAHN: We reported that you lost three of your colleagues in an ambush. What kind of precautions are you taking now?

CHANCE: It's of course a very volatile situation when you're in a position where the front lines are moving quite rapidly. They could move one way or the other. One minute you may be covering an advance by the Northern Alliance deep into Taliban-controlled territory. The next minute you can see all those Northern Alliance forces running in the other direction, screaming "Get back, get back!" So, it's a very volatile situation here. Obviously, these unfortunate journalists got caught up in the middle of it.


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